About 10 years ago one of London's venerable wine merchants—I don't remember which one, which is probably a good thing for reasons that will soon become apparent—made the prediction that the next "hot" wine region was going to be France's southwest, stretching from Languedoc and Roussillon on the Mediterranean coast west along the base of the Pyrenees almost to the Atlantic.
Well, they were wrong. A lot of money has flowed into the region, but the results so far have been pretty disappointing, and anyone who has seen the provocative if flawed film, Mondovino, will have a pretty good idea as to why.
But there are exceptions (always, when it comes to wine), and top of my list are the white wines from Domaine du Tariquet, located in the heart of Armagnac. The estate has been owned by the Grassa family since 1912 but has been making Armagnac since at least 1683. Trouble is, the market for this wonderful brandy is not exactly booming these days. So in the 1980s, the current owners, MaitÉ and Yves Grassa, decided to break with custom and plant nontraditional grape varieties to make and sell still white wine in parallel to the Armagnac business, and a huge success it has been.
They now make nine different varietal combinations, five of which are available in the U.S. market. They are all wines possessed of utterly distinct personalities, and all terrific value at between $11 and $16.50. My favorite is the Domaine du CôtÉ Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($16.50). Chardonnay blends like this are seldom a success, but here it works splendidly. This is a pretty, flirtatious wine that just glows with bright fruits—pineapple, citrus, melon—with each varietal playing off the other in a delicious harmony of summer flavors.
A word of warning: Tariquet, just to make things confusing, switched labels in mid-vintage, so if the one you see in the wine shop has a white label instead of green, don't worry, it is the same wine.
When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary
Food Pairing: Good as an aperitif and with Asian food
Grapes: Chardonnay-50%, sauvignon blanc-50%
Appellation: Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne
Web Site: www.tariquet.com
Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to Forbes.com, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to BusinessWeek.com. He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.